July 14, 2012
Immensly helpful, practical and detailed
Diving into the lives of saints you will find constant references to mental prayer and sometimes discussions on mental prayer or exhortations to do mental prayer.
Statements are made like "Mental Prayer is absolutely necessary for salvation!" So being a good Christian you are anxious to start doing mental prayer; however, there are many different schools of it. St Ignatius relies heavily on the imagination in his exercises, but "The Cloud of Unknowing" seems to condemn the use of the imagination, and mental prayer is not even mentioned in the Rule of St Benedict.
Father Abbot Lehoday, a Cistercian Monk, presents all the different schools of mental prayer and techniques that I was familiar with and some that I was not. St. Pius X thought so highly of the book that he endorsed it. Father Abbot Lehoday discusses the history of mental prayer, cites the various Masters of prayer - St Bernard, St Teresa of Avila, St Alphonsus and other great teachers - as he explains prayer.
He does not stop at just explaining vocal and mental prayer, he explains affective prayer and the prayer of quiet very thoroughly. In fact, he goes all the way up to "union", but spends less time on the various mystical stages of prayer than in the beginning stages.
A common criticism of the book is that it is dry. I did not find most of the book to be dry, but I found several sections of the book to be on the dry side in comparison to other sections.
The book helped me be less rigid in prayer, changed the way that I prepare for mental prayer, and how I examine if my prayer was good or not. Father Abbot will impress on you that good prayer can be as simple as saying to God "Lord have mercy" with tears and compunction and that it can be superior to a lengthy reading of the mercy of God in a meditation book. This book, which can be technical, is filled with exhortations to virtue that I believe will be especially appealing to men and keeps the text enjoyable.
I think most Christians would benefit from reading this book, along with the Scriptures, The Imitation of Christ, Introduction to the Devout Life, The Spiritual Combat, True Devotion to Mary, Secrets of the Rosary and Frequent Confession.
Here is a sample of the wisdom that Abbot Father Lehoday has to offer:
"The best prayer is not that which is most savory, but that which is most fruitful; not that which consoles, but that which transforms us; not that which elevates us in the common or the mystical ways, but that which makes us humble, detached, obedient, generous, faithful to all our duties. Assuredly, we highly esteem contemplation, provided, however, it unites our will to God's, transforms our life, or, at least, advances us in virtue." Father Abbot Vital Lehoday, The Ways of Mental Prayer, pg 408